Paper ballots ditched, Sarnia will vote online in 2022

Troy Shantz

Sarnia’s next municipal election will be decided with electronic votes, not paper ballots.

Council struck an election committee and used an online survey to hear how residents want to cast ballots in 2022.

The committee, based on the public’s divided response, recommended online voting for seven days before the election, and paper-ballot voting on election day.

But in a 5-4 decision this month, council rejected the hybrid idea and approved Internet-only ballots next year.

“I have no objection to hybrid voting,” said Coun. Terry Burrell. “It’s just that the cost is so much more to try to do everything for every person. The cost is way beyond what we need to spend.”

Internet-only voting would cost $386,000 compared to $608,000 for a hybrid of online and paper ballots at five voting stations on election day, city staff estimate.

Sarnia used traditional paper ballots in the 2014 election, and Internet and telephone voting for the first time in 2018.

In last fall’s public survey, 355 of the 481 respondents favoured Internet voting, 247 wanted paper ballots at polling stations, and 146 preferred mail-in ballots.

Voting by telephone was not an option.

Mayor Mike Bradley supported the use of paper ballots, as did councillors Bill Dennis, Margaret Bird and George Vandenberg.

Voting against were councillors Burrell, Dave Boushy, Nathan Colquhoun, Brian White, and Mike Stark.

Bradley called paper ballots the most secure form of democratic voting.

“We’ve just had four provincial elections with paper ballots. Federal and Provincial governments have looked into online voting, but they can’t address the security issues,” he said.

Councillors Bird and Dennis said despite the increased cost a hybrid election is what the electorate wants. They also said the 2018 election had problems with spoiled ballots and voters being turned away.

“We missed so many people and we don’t want to do that again,” Bird said.

While the response to last fall’s survey was strong, the participants represent less than 2% of the total number of eligible electors, city staff said.

A survey conducted following the 2018 election found 83% were satisfied with how it was run.